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Baby 101: How to Dress a Newborn

By Amalah

Oh Wise Amalah –

I have a ridiculous baby question – this should be an easy one for you. I’m pregnant with my first child (due in March) and as I was registering for cute baby things, I realized that I have no idea how to dress a newborn baby. I’m not kidding. I’ve read plenty of books about being pregnant, I’m signed up for my birthing class and I’m reading up on breast-feeding techniques (yes, I’m a nerd). But, I have no idea what you put on the baby after the diaper goes on. And, I’m talking beyond the onesie here. I live in the Boston-area so it’ll be cold when the bambino arrives.

Do I start with a white body suit and work up to some footed jammies? How many of these items do I realistically need?

Please help me move beyond the diaper.

Thank you very much,
Clueless New Mama in the Northeast

So, as readers of my blog may know, my first baby was big. Big! Nine pounds, 15 ounces. An honest-to-God one-month-old at birth who only got bigger. (I know! Apparently THEY ALL DO THAT.) He was born too big for the “newborn” clothing (generally fits babies up to 8 pounds or so, depending on length), and wore the 0-3 month clothing (up to 12 pounds, thereabouts) for barely a month.

So! This time! I was going to be so! Smart! Second babies tend to be even BIGGER, right? We loaded up on 3-6 month clothing. Oh, did we EVER load up on 3-6 month clothing. I dutifully hung up a few of my first son’s, Noah’s, barely worn 0-3 month sleepers and bought two packages of 0-3 month onesies. I bought one package of newborn onesies and one — ONE!! — pair of newborn footie pajamas. It was his coming-home outfit, since I guessed with a scheduled c-section before my due date there was a slight chance he’d be in the low eight-pound range. We bought ZERO newborn diapers. ZERO.

Aaaaaaand you either know or see where this is going. My second son, Ezra, was seven pounds, seven ounces and was just the wee-est little peanut I’d ever seen. 0-3 month clothing was not just “a little big” on him. It was ENORMOUS. It was like, a DROWNING HAZARD.

I’m telling you all this — even though I know you didn’t even ASK about clothing sizes — because seriously, research and register and obsess all you want, you’re probably going to end up with a lot of the wrong stuff, and are going to be standing in the store four days postpartum buying the right stuff, wondering how the hell you manage to spend nine straight months thinking about baby things and STILL end up screwing it up.

(Let’s also NOT TALK about how screwed up baby sizing even is to begin with, since Ezra is now over 10 pounds and outgrowing the very smallest of the newborn sleepers but just now fitting into other newborn sleepers (Target’s Circo Brand! Is HUUUGE!) for the first time. And yet a 3-6 month outfit from Baby Gap fits him, but so does this other 0-3 month outfit from the SAME STORE. Don’t these clothing manufacturers realize that they are messing with a VERY TIRED, VERY UNSTABLE audience of new parents here?)

A onesie and a footed sleeper/jammie works about 99.999% of the time.

So unfortunately I still can’t really help you with the question of quantity and “how much of this stuff do you REALLY need,” even though I should, seeing as I JUST HAD A BABY and my memory should be pretty fresh. But it’s not, because I either look in Ezra’s closet and see waaaay, waaaaaaaaaay too many clothes that he’ll never wear…or I look in his closet and see rows of bare hangers because he went through every outfit in record time and I have to do laundry AGAIN. Some days you get a lot of spit up and leaky diapers and you change their clothes three or four times. Some days you stop and realize that they’ve been wearing the same sad pair of jammies since yesterday and feel the need to change them on principle. It just freaking depends.

(I can tell you that we went through about one package of newborn diapers a week. About 10 diapers a day. Six weeks later I’d say we’re down to about eight a day. Sorry, planet.)

But! Your main question: dressing a newborn. Some main points:

1. A onesie and a footed sleeper/jammie works about 99.999% of the time.

2. Avoid any clothing that does NOT snap around the legs or easily unzip. (And I’m including sleepers with buttons, or anything that fastens up the back. Totally impossible and annoying. And yet you will get these as gifts from people who either 1) don’t have children, or 2) HATE YOU.) You’ll want to avoid pants for the first couple weeks until the umbilical cord heals.

3. You’ll also have to fight a terrible compulsion to overdress the baby, since they seem so little and vulnerable and naked-newborn-puppy-like. Look to your own outfit, then dress the baby accordingly. If you have a long-sleeve cotton shirt on, but feel like you need a sweater, then you probably want to change the baby’s cotton pajamas and put on some fleece ones, or switch to a long-sleeve undershirt. Likewise, if you feel overheated, chances are your layered-up baby does too. Their little hands and feet always look kind of purple at first, but this is 100% normal and does NOT mean you need to put on two pairs of socks under their pajamas. Likewise, don’t forget that newborns generally like to be kept swaddled up, so the blanket provides a whole other layer of warmth.

4. Venturing outside can be where things get difficult. Personally, I prefer keeping the baby in his normal clothes, adding a hat, and then tucking him into his carseat with a nice warm bunting. (JJ Cole’s Bundle Me is fantastic.) This makes strapping him in much easier, and means less messing and undressing him when we get to our destination. (Carseats put babies to sleep, so I like just unzipping the Bundle Me instead of fretting about him getting overheated in a coat that would require waking him up and pissing him off royally to remove.)

5. If we’re not utilizing the carseat (think stroller or sling or front-carrier), I like a one-piece suit with feet, hand covers and a hood. (AND CROTCH SNAPS.) A bunting bag (no feet) also works, but if you want something that can also work with a carseat or front carrier, these are out. You can go lightweight to hit-the-slopes caliber with these, and again, think about what YOU need to wear in your climate. If you never go out in more than a light jacket, for the love of God don’t put your newborn in a gigantic down snowsuit. Always keep their heads warm, either with a hat or a hood, and it’s usually a good idea to bring a receiving blanket everywhere you go, just in case of wind or rain or a sudden drop in temperature.

34861_S74.jpg6. Oh, let’s see if I can’t make this column even MORE disorganized and random. Footed outfits are really best for a few weeks, since socks rarely actually stay on newborn feet (Noah’s giant feet excluded, of course), but by a month old you may be able to find some that do work. (In the “worthwhile omg cute splurge” department, I’m crazy about the Trumpette line of socks and Hanna Andersson’s sweet Swedish moccasins and BabyLegs.) Don’t even think about buying shoes; Miracle Blankets are the best swaddling devices in the world the hospital hats fit newborn heads better than anything else; some people really love the elastic-bottomed gowns and other people hate them very very much. (I hate them. They don’t keep his feet warm, his socks pull off and the elastic rides up, and most of them have to get pulled on over his head and ooh, both of my babies HAAATE THAAAAT.)

But oh! How it all JUST DEPENDS. Every baby is different, every climate, everybody’s preference for snap- or zip-up sleepers and tolerance for doing laundry. In the end, though, I wouldn’t fret too much about registering for clothes at all.

Baby clothes will come to you whether you register for the pink-striped onesie set or the yellow-polka-dot set. You’ll buy stuff for yourself because you can’t resist it, gifts will arrive in the mail weeks after the baby is born and you already have the same sleeper in two different sizes, a gigantic box of hand-me-downs will mysteriously appear on your husband’s desk at work. (Happened to us, only make it THREE gigantic boxes, oh my God.)

And then you’ll stay home for those first few weeks with the heat cranked all the way up so you can keep your baby dressed in nothing but a plain white onesie because babies look soooooooo cute dressed in nothing but plain white onesies.

Don’t forget to visit Amalah’s must-read weekly Pregnancy Calendar.



Amazon Baby Registry 2

Published December 1, 2008. Last updated March 27, 2018.
About the Author

Amy Corbett Storch


Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Ama...

Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Amalah. Also, it’s pronounced AIM-ah-lah.

If there is a question you would like answered on the Advice Smackdown, please submit it to [email protected].

Amy also documented her second pregnancy (with Ezra) in our wildly popular Weekly Pregnancy Calendar, Zero to Forty.

Amy is mother to rising first-grader Noah, preschooler Ezra, and toddler Ike.

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  • Cobblestone

    December 1, 2008 at 11:21 am

    My boy is 15 weeks now. Here is my $.02 about clothing…
    1. It shrinks. All of it. At 15 weeks he is wearing some 6 month stuff because I got it from friends and it fits just about right.
    2. If you luuuuuuuuv something that will be pretty utililtarian buy it in two sizes or else you might not get enough time to see the babe in it. {Circo 6mo blue onesie with the ‘drawn’ airplane on it … anyone? bueller?}
    3. Kimono tops/onesies {with the snaps that go down the front but off center} are GREAT for not pulling stuff over the head in the middle of the night {um HATE! SCREAMMMMMMMMMMMMM!}.
    4. Be boldly confident in how the baby is dressed, 3 out of 4 passing grandmas say UR DOIN IT RONG! Too hot, too cold, passive aggressive “it’s fine”, and one genuine recognition of your content child as proof that the temperature is just fine.
    5. Good luck

  • crazylovescompany

    December 1, 2008 at 11:52 am

    Seeing as I’m due on Saturday I hope I have this covered. I figure the best I can do is prepare, I have some newborn stuff, some 0-3 stuff, and I know grandma will be sending stuff once bambino is born. It’s a little scary, but exciting. The worst case scenario is sending hubby out to buy something. But I’m sure it will be fine. Won’t it?

  • Liz

    December 1, 2008 at 12:00 pm

    You are going to get sooooooo many different answers on this! My (hopefully brief) addition: newborn boys tend to go through more clothing changes per day than girls due to pee fountains at EVERY DIAPER CHANGE OMG KID. I prefer the little footed sleepers; my husband prefers the sleeper sacks, so have some of each to discover your preference. Also, to slightly disagree w/ Amy, the only (ONLY) reason I recommend little leather crib shoes at their age is if you will be putting this babe in daycare anytime soon and sending him/her in an outfit w/ no footies; the shoes keep socks fixed on wiggly little feet.

  • Ginny-Marie Case

    December 1, 2008 at 12:09 pm

    Yes – Kimono EVERYTHING! And, bunting bags. These two things together – you will be able to (maybe not right off the bat, but soon) change the baby while she’s sleeping and not wake her.
    Also – worried about diaper changing, getting the clothes on? My partner had not even babysat for a baby and was an only child. The first diaper he ever changed was at the hospital after Iolani’s delivery. I was all tangled up in IV drips, he looked at me with this “OH Holy Sh*t” face… All I could think to do was say “Ask the nurse for help” And, she did just that. She stood next to him as he changed her first diaper, later on she stood beside him as she was dressed…. The nurse even showed him how to swaddle her up. He is the swaddling pro.
    If you want to practice, buy a teddy bear. Your friends will not let you practice on their baby. But, overall…once you’ve had the baby a lot of this will come to you. If not, the nurse will be right there to provide encouragement – just ask.

  • Carmen

    December 1, 2008 at 2:33 pm

    I also like the kimono style of shirts, but my kids actually don’t mind having things put on over their heads. I will say that I had the opposite problem of pee fountains as Liz did – my little girl peed EVERY single time I changed her diaper, but my little boy didn’t.
    I took a newborn care class before my first child and they told us that babies hands and feet are always cold so the best place to feel whether or not your baby is warm is in between his/her shoulder blades. Sweating? Remove a layer. Cold? Add a layer. I usually dressed my kids in a onesie and then a shirt & pants. (This was after about one month – for the first month they were both in footed pajamas) Then as they got older I had shirts that button in between their legs, pants and a sweater if needed. For outside, I had a little snowsuit for carrying them around in the baby carrier. For the carseat, I just packed a lot of blankets on them. But…I live in the Pacific Northwest where it doesn’t get that cold, so that carseat method worked for me. If it were much colder, I think I would have purchased the Bundle Me that Amy recommended.

  • Brandi

    December 1, 2008 at 2:34 pm

    Ok, I have to tell this story because this post made me think of it.
    When my sister and I were little one winter my dad worked out of town and came home on the weekends. He did this a few weeks at a time because we needed the money.
    Well he would stay with a guy he knew from work and his girlfreind who was pregnant. Well she had the baby after a few weeks of my dad being down there.
    So one day my dad and his freind get back to the apartment from work to find the baby screaming it’s poor little head off, wrapped up in two or three blankets, wearing a really warm outfit and with the heat on in the apartment so high that the windows were fogged up and condensated. Of course the new mom had no idea what was wrong.
    So my dad went over to the baby and started pulling off blankets and told his freind to open a window and turn the heat off. And new mom got pissed and goes “The doctor told me to keep him warm!” And my dad said “He didn’t tell you to cook the damn thing!”
    So once the baby was changed out of it’s snow suit and got cooled off he calmed down and my dad explained to the new mom that if you’re wearing jeans and a t-shirt, the baby doesn’t need to be in a bear skin next to the space heater. It’s a simple concept but i’m glad you brought it up. There is at least one person on earth who needed to hear that!

  • mswas

    December 1, 2008 at 3:01 pm

    Carmen made a good point about where to touch to tell if the baby is warm or cold. We always used the back of the neck, which is pretty close to in between the shoulder blades, but easier to reach
    I think their circulation is not great at first, so touching hands or feet is not a good enough signal.

  • Issa

    December 1, 2008 at 5:36 pm

    Funny, but in my tiredness, I thought she was asking how exactly to dress a baby. My first thought was, buy a live octopus and practice. But it’s actually harder to dress a newborn, of this I’m sure.
    My real advice to the person is have a baby shower. Ok, kidding.
    I am big on real pants, because nothing is cuter than a baby in jeans, or stripey pants, but that is just me. Also I live in the land of snow. You can buy sets of 3 or 4 pants from target or Carters; the soft kind that go with any top. I have a few sets of these and a pair (or 3 – first grandson) of overalls or two and a few pairs of real pants for each size…although my kid is a chunk and some of the 0-3 months still have tags on. Onesies are great, long sleeved ones if you live in a cold area. One thing that people don’t realize is that shirts and dresses are adorable, but when the baby is a newborn, you spend all day pulling it down, to avoid pissing them off, so they aren’t really worth the money. Have a zillion onesies and you will never have enough. Babies spit-up, poop, drool and vomit on several a day.
    You know, I’m thinking I wasn’t really that helpful. Sorry, it’s baby brain.

  • Heidi

    December 1, 2008 at 5:47 pm

    I may be the only one who feels this way, what with all the onesie talk, but I really prefer the front-snap t-shirts (Carters makes them, and I think Gerber too). It’s not like the kid needs extra warmth in the crotch; onesies just seem like so much work to put on and take off; and any diaper-area overflow means you have to wrestle the onesie off and another one on. The t-shirts don’t get near the diaper area, don’t go over the head, and only need to be changed (a) after boyish pee showers, and/or (b) when you realize you don’t remember how long the kid’s been wearing it. So much easier.

  • Katy Vafaeezadeh

    December 1, 2008 at 7:13 pm

    And remember, when eleventy-five people ask you “What can I do to help?” after the baby comes, you IMMEDIATELY ask them to return the wrong stuff you have (because like A says, you will have some wrong stuff) and buy some of the right stuff.
    People like me who haven’t been shopping for teeny-tiny baby clothes in twelve years will LOVE LOVE LOVE the opportunity to go buy all those cute little whateveryouneeds. Grandparents will too, I promise. And then you won’t have to at 4 days post-partum. Because that would suck. A lot.

  • Leila

    December 1, 2008 at 9:01 pm

    Kind of like Heidi, I’m a fan of snap-front onesies while the baby can’t hold up its head. Then you can unsnap the onesie, lay it out, put baby on top, put arms in sleeves, and snap it up, rather than having to pull a shirt over a wobbly head. (Of course, my two had huge heads — thanks dad! — so pulling a shirt over their heads was a struggle.)

  • Jen

    December 2, 2008 at 2:47 am

    It is definitely true that you won’t know what you’ll need until you need it. Or you don’t. But what you don’t need is a Bundle Me for the carseat. First, a March baby probably won’t need something that warm. But more importantly, anything that goes under the baby in the carseat, like the Bundle Me, can compromise the effectiveness of the carseat in an accident. You are better off with something that just goes over the top of the carseat. Kiddopatamus makes one and so does Lands’ End. Or you could just use one or two of the million baby blankets that people are going to give you.

  • bessie.viola

    December 2, 2008 at 10:52 am

    I had baby in February. In Michigan. Yeah. It was cold. Everyone in this post has great ideas – I definitely second the poster who talked about Carter’s pants. I think they’re called Roly Poly pants? They are adorable and so versatile – kept my girl cozy. Plus, they were easy to match with all her onesies.
    Also, a baby hoodie. Carter’s also makes them. I know it seems silly, but it’s great to have a zip-front, warmer option that’s easy on/off. When we had guests, she would sometimes get really warm while being snuggled, and we could get that off easily and replace when needed without hassle.
    Good luck! You’ll be great.

  • Heide

    December 6, 2008 at 8:59 pm

    My son was a fall baby, and we live in NYC so he wasn’t going in the car much — mostly that winter, he rode in a Baby Bjorn front carrier. And someone loaned me a Mamacoat from the company Japanese Weekend. It has an extra panel that zips into the front between the front zipper so it makes the coat big enough to wear over the front carrier. THIS WAS GREAT. I cannot recommend it enough. Kept me and the babe warm all winter, and since he was UNDER the coat I never worried about whether he was warm enough.
    (Next winter, in a back carrier outside my garment … another story.)

  • gail

    January 31, 2010 at 2:55 pm

    oh my goodness!! I’m pregnant with 4 children in my fat little belly. me and Jason can’t wait until the day were in the hospital with our kids in our hands! tell me, does it hurt when your in labor? Its my first delivery and i just don’t know!

  • Sabrina

    March 25, 2014 at 5:25 pm

    Well I’m about to have a baby named DevLin. I’m going to diliver my first baby Tomorrow morning :”D Feeling pretty nervouse 🙂

  • J

    December 28, 2015 at 9:23 pm

    For my winter baby I liked using hooded long sleeve night shirts at night and by day I really liked stretchy pantsuits that came with jackets (hoods were nice too), plus baby shoes like Padraigs or Robeez (that’s what we have here), these were indispensable. Because my son was a preemie he often wore bigger baby T-shirts (side tie style) as robes and was swaddled with a hat and socks as well. Onesies were annoying for me, footed pants were outgrown very quickly, plus preemie clothes were hard to find. For outer wear, fleece overalls or a one piece snowsuit, coats with built in mittens (or those tied together with a string), stretchy fleece hats with ear flaps and chin straps, fleece neck scarves, big furry fleece blankets for the lap, rain/wind shield for the stroller. I didn’t have a car.